Equal Justice

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					There were two battles against the Japanese for the Philippines during
World War II. We lost one and won the other. Though the War officially
ended when the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the United States Congress
decided it was too costly to recognize the Filipino soldiers'
contributions to the war effort by passing a law denying them the same
benefits as all other American military personnel. Sixteen million
Americans served in World War II, and Congress thought it would cost too
much money to include Filipino soldiers among those eligible for benefits
of the G.I. Bill. Money should not even have been a consideration. Though
Congress has provided limited legislation admitting its dishonorable act,
this shameful injustice is still in effect after nearly 65 years. House
of Representative Bill #491, the Equity Act of 2001 would have overturned
the Recession Act of 1946 which denied Filipino soldiers the benefits
received by all other Americans who served in the military forces in
World War II.Democrat and Republican representatives alike, running for
re-election in 2002, publicly announced their support of this
legislation. Obviously, public announcements of support by incumbents
were idle promises. American voters, which include increasing numbers of
Filipino/Americans, have influenced limited but inadequate congressional
legislation that has occurred. Congress must overturn the Recession Act,
thereby providing nothing less than full restitution to Filipino
veterans. What are some of the arguments against overturning the
Congressional Act of 1946, signed into law by President Harry
Truman?First, the Philippines was a colonial possession left over from
the Spanish-American War of 1898. Secondly, Filipinos were not American
citizens as were the soldiers from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Massachusetts
or Kentucky. Let's examine the relationship between the Philippines and
the United States for the last 112-113 years and take a look at these
arguments. By federal law, the Philippines was a commonwealth of the
United States. It came into legal existence as such because of the
Tydings-McDuffie Bill, passed by the United States Congress and signed
into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1934 which granted absolute
and complete independence to the Philippines by 1944 (actually 1946 due
to Japanese occupation), and it provided for an interim commonwealth
supervised by the United States, with a Philippine president elected by
national vote, and a constitution. A constitution was adopted in February
1935, approved by the United States President and ratified by a
plebiscite of the Philippine people in May 1935 with Manuel Quezon as
President.So what is a commonwealth? "A commonwealth is a body of people
in a politically organized community that is independent or semi-
independent, and in which the government functions by the common consent
of the people. United States and the individual semi-independent states
are thus commonwealths, although Pennsylvania, Virginia, Massachusetts
and Kentucky have officially designated themselves as such." On July 26,
1941, President Roosevelt signed an order nationalizing the Armed Forces
of the Philippines, and appointed Douglas MacArthur as Commanding General
of the United States Armed Forces Far East. By United States law, the
legal status of the Philippines before, during and after World War II was
a commonwealth, and its citizens were, therefore, entitled to the same
benefits as citizens of all United States commonwealths.Another argument
is, Philippine independence took place on June 12, 1898, when it declared
itself free of Spanish rule. This date was officially recognized by
President John Kennedy in 1962. Could his action have taken place because
of empathy for the Philippine people, or was it a smoke screen to offset
mounting political heat for restitution of the injustice to Filipino
veterans? Some say that the declaration of June 12, 1898 does not prevail
over actual achievement of independence which occurred, according to law,
July 4, 1946. The latter view does not hold up when compared to the
American Colonies declaring independence from England on July 4, 1776,
but achieving it only after surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown
in 1781. The United States must be bound by laws in effect during World
War II in its relationship with the Philippines.What was the practical
military value of Filipino soldiers' war efforts? Sixty four thousand
Filipinos and twelve thousand Americans of other ethnic backgrounds
surrendered at Bataan in April 1942, and another fifteen thousand on the
Island of Corregidor a month later, having held off the Japanese for five
months without re-supply of food, equipment and ammunition, or
reinforcements from the United States mainland. Contrary to popular
believe that we were invincible, the United States did not have the
wherewithal to re-supply or reinforce the Philippine defenders. Though it
can be argued that the Japanese had no plans to invade the United States
mainland or the Hawaiian Islands, who knows what they would have done if
they had been able to capture the Philippines in a few weeks instead of
many months? Japan could have used its forces wherever it chose. That
delay gave the United States time to re-build its woefully weakened
military forces.Finally, the moral issue. Filipinos were subjected to the
same harsh brutal treatment as other Americans during the infamous Bataan
Death March. Can anyone deny the fairness of restoring full veteran
benefits to Filipino soldiers the same as those bestowed on all other
American military veterans? Despite news stories that attract public
attention, there is an abundance of human-interest features waiting to be
told that deal with this grave injustice. It is imperative to seek the
viewpoints of Filipino veterans and highlight their stories now. They do
indeed fit Tom Brokaw's description of, "The Greatest Generation," but
they are not going the live forever.BY: WILLIAM N. EDWARDS

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